Monday, December 31, 2007

Does Clothing Make the Man\Woman? PART II

I ended my last post with the following question, which I am going to respond to now:

But there are plenty of other things that G-d commands that I have questions about. The very fact that I wonder if I'm a feminist in the frum world is based on questions that I have about a woman's place in the Orthodox community. So why didn't I question the dress code?

So why don't I question the Orthodox women's dress-code if I have other problems with "Orthodox women" issues? I'd have to say that it's because I know without question, as a Jew who believes in G-d and in the divinity of the Torah (i.e. Bible), that it comes directly from G-d. And while I might take issue with some of the attitudes within the Orthodox community, I don't take issue with G-d.

One of the struggles that I have over being a feminist in the frum world is that I know that living life according to the Torah - in other words, being Orthodox, - is the right thing to do but at the same time I question a number of the community's attitudes towards women.

[In other words, I want to be frum, but there's a part of me that has very feminist-tendencies and having those tendencies conflicts with things in the frum world - conflicts with being frum, thereby causing a problem if I want to be frum. Which I do. ]

So when I know that the Torah says something, such as,
"A woman must not put on a man's apparel, nor shall a man wear woman's clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord, your God." (Deuteronomy 22:5) I don't argue with it. If the Torah says that I shouldn't wear men's clothing - i.e. pants - then I won't, and I won't question it.

But when the community has, what I see as, a sexist attitude toward women, I question it a lot more easily than I question something written in the Torah.

And that's why I don't have a problem with following the frum dress-code: because I see it as something divinely inspired, rather than less-than-flattering-towards-women inspired.

I hope that this makes sense. It does to me. If you disagree, feel free to post a comment letting me know.

Caio for now.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Does Clothing Make the Man\Woman? PART I

"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society." -Mark Twain

I met a gal in the Virtual Jerusalem chatroom yesterday. I was under the username, "AmIAFrumFeminist" and suddenly I got a PM (private message):

Gal: I'm a feminist
Me: Woohoo! Yay feminists!

We got to talking and she brought up a question that gave me some food for thought, so here I am, and I'm going to start chewing on it...

She asked me how I felt, as a (potential) feminist, about the dress-code (called, "Tzniut," in Hebrew) in the frum world.

Let me respond, first, by saying that the dress-code in the frum world is pretty strict, according to modern societal standards. We don't have to wear burkhas and we don't get stoned for showing a little ankle, but in modern American society our dress code is probably considered pretty primitive.

The reason why this dress-code presents a potential problem for someone with feminist inclinations is because... Well, there's no way to get around it: it's definitely stricter on women than it is on men.

The basics for women include wearing tops with necklines that cover the collarbone and sleeves that cover the elbow, and only skirts\dresses, which must cover the knee. It varies in different communities, with some communities insisting that women must wear opaque tights at all times to ensure that their legs never show, and other communities having no problem with no socks at all, but those are the basics.

The basics for men... not nearly as complicated. They have to wear a kippah (skullcap) and tzitzit (a fringed undergarment - click on the link if you don't understand. It's kind of hard to explain in short.)
Showing their elbows: not a problem.
Neckline: also not a problem.
Knees: Eh, depends on the community. Technically speaking, wearing shorts isn't a problem, though some communities frown on it.

Looking at the differences between the men's and women's dress-codes in the Orthhodox world, it's pretty obvious that women are held to a higher standard than men. And that, I expect, presents a problem for a true feminist, because it implies an inequality between the sexes.

Faced with this question, of whether I find the dress code offensive, I was reminded why I'm still not sure whether I'm a feminist or not. I wear my skirts and long-sleeved shirts and don't really give it much thought. If I decided, one day, that I wanted to start wearing pants and tank-tops, I could do that. Like I said, no one is going to stone me, at least not physically. (But if looks could kill...) But, quite frankly, I don't have a problem with the dress code; it's just a fact of life to me.

Yet when my new friend from the chatroom asked me about it, I realized that if I'm a feminist, I should have a problem with it. Why should I be subjected to strict dress-rules if men are not? Being faced with the realization that I didn't have a problem with a dress-code that sounds pretty sexist gave me something to think about.

I explained to my new friend that I don't have a problem with the dress code because I believe in G-d and believe that He gave the Jewish people laws of life to live by because when we follow His will, we get closer to Him. Following His dress-code, to me, was just a commandment that could help me get closer to G-d.

But there are plenty of other things that G-d commands that I have questions about. The very fact that I wonder if I'm a feminist in the frum world is based on questions that I have about a woman's place in the Orthodox community. So why didn't I question the dress code?

It's something I've been pondering since I began "chewing" on this topic last night... Unfortunately, that's all the time we have now. Shabbat (the Sabbath) is coming in a few hours and I've got to run.

Until then I remain questioningly yours,

Frum Feminist (?)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Do you need a man to have a life?

You know what’s a really annoying thing about being a woman in the frum world? Being taught all your life that right after high school you’ll go to seminary and right (or soon) after seminary you’ll get married so that you can have a family and fulfill your purpose as a Jewish woman. Sure, it’s a nice idea, but no one seems to talk about what happens if you don’t get married. I guess that life without a man just isn’t an option. (Which is ridiculously ironic after you’ve been told all your life to stay far away from them, but that’s another story.)

Those of us who don’t get married immediately after seminary are given the option of working within the frum community, because working out of the frum community would have a bad influence on us. Usually the jobs available are: being a teacher or, alternatively, a teacher’s assistant. The reason why these jobs are available are because the frum Jewish schools don’t require that you have any sort of experience or skills for them.

Ridiculous, I know, but when I informed the principal of a preschool in the neighborhood who contacted me about a job position that I had zero experience with children, she said, “That’s fine.” That was a month or two after I left seminary and I ended up working in that school for two years until I realized the reason why they didn’t care that I had no experience: because it meant that they could pay me dirt-wages. Someone with experience wants to be paid more than they’re willing to offer.

I discovered this when I asked for a raise after two years and they informed me that that wasn’t an option. I left, realizing that I would soon be replaced with another gal straight out of seminary. Latest I heard, there are girls years younger than me who are now teaching in that school. I was an assistant with no experience; they’re teachers with no experience. I’ve warned everyone I know with kids to keep their children far away from that school.

It all worked out well for me because I got a better job with a better salary, but when I bumped into my high school principal at a wedding (of a classmate) and told him I was running a website, I’m pretty sure that the look he gave me was not one of approval.

That wedding was not a fun experience for me. Right now, I can’t even remember whose wedding it was. All I remember was seeing a number of my former classmates wearing the wigs that symbolize their married-status and wondering why they were giving me these strange smiles when they said hello to me. It didn’t take long to realize that I was getting the infamous, “Oh-it’s-so- sad- that- she’s- still- single,” Look. I was 21 at the time.

Yes, at age 21 I was nearing the status of, “old-maid” in the frum world. Now, at 23, I’m positively ancient. Showing up to my 18 year-old sister’s graduation and having girls years younger holding their babies giving me the Look… That really (pardon my French) pissed me off.

So what’s with this attitude of needing to be married to have a life? Is that as obnoxiously chauvinistic as I think it is?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Can a Conservative be a Feminist?

That's what I'm wondering today: can a Conservative be a Feminist? Feminism is generally seen as a Liberal movement, (as in, "Women's Lib."?) so if I consider myself a political Conservative, can I be a feminist?

I bring this up because I'm in the middle of reading a few essays written about how to interpret the Constitution and former Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist is one of the authors. [For those who don't know, Rehnquist was an extremely Conservative Justice on the Supreme Court.] And as I read his essay I keep saying to myself, "I love this guy! He's a genius!"

In other words, I think that his Conservative views are really brilliant, which brings to light me being a Conservative and the question of whether I can be a feminist if I am.

You see my problem here? The reason why I'm not sure whether I'm a frum feminist? It just seems oxymoronic.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Who am I?

I'm "me," and it's hard to describe myself. You try to do it. Right now. See? Not so easy.

I am a frum (Orthodox Jewish) female, that much I can say. Whether I'm a frum feminist remains to be seen. Being a feminist in my World could be pretty detrimental to one's reputation, and reputation means a heck of a lot in this community.

The reason why being a feminist could be detrimental to your reputation is because in the Orthodox Jewish world, the ultimate life for a woman is to marry, have children, and establish a good home.

There's a part of me that understands that and knows that philosophically, being a wife and mother is one of the most difficult jobs in the world and that it's a position that really should be a lot more respected than it is.

Then there's the part of me that says, "Well, that's all nice and good but I want more than that." That's the, "feminist" part of me, I guess. The part that I feel like I have to hide away from members of the community because they'd be horrified to hear me say such a thing.

It's getting late so I'm going to rap this up.

-Frum Feminist (?)